The proposed Human Rights Bill in Zimbabwe, while showing glimpses of promise, is marred by omissions.
Firstly the good news. The bill recognises the necessity of independence from government interference;
“Neither the State nor any person, body, organ, agency or institution belonging to or employed by the State, a local authority or otherwise, shall interfere with, hinder or obstruct the Commission, its Commissioners or any member of staff of the Commission, in the exercise or performance of its, his or her functions”.
However reports suggest that there are no details on the consequences of interference, nor does it include penalties to deter culprits. There are also other reports that seem to contradict the independence of the commission. It is reported that the Minister of Justice and the minister responsible for Finance will have some responsibilities pertaining to the hiring of staff. This brings the very idea of independence into disrepute, how can an organisation be truly independent when it’s employees are chosen by the government? This reduces transparency and will lead to calls of corruption.
Perhaps the most disturbing piece of the proposed bill is that it appears to grant impunity to any human rights offences that occurred pre 2009.
This appears to outlaw any investigations into numerous allegations and incidents, from the election violence in 2008 to the Gukurahundi violence in the 1980s.
Among those who would be granted impunity is Perence Shiri, who was the First Commander of the Fifth Brigade that killed around 20,000 civilians in the 1980s . He now serves as the commander of the Zimbawean Air Force and his one of Mugabe’s closest allies. He is also believed to be one of the masterminds behind the violence against MDC supporters during 2008’s election.
The climate of impunity in Zimbabwe does not merely focus on sweeping allegations under the carpet but also punishes those seeking justice. Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, A co-Minister for the Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI), was imprisoned for making “outspoken comments about the Gukurahundi violence in the 1980s, and strongly argued for restitution for victims of that episode of state violence”.
Before Zimbabwe can re-engage with the wider international community it must first accept accountability within its own borders and bring to justice those who have committed atrocities.